Is German Defense Policy Undergoing A Sea Change?

Dr. Matlé explores the consequences of NATO’s new 2022 Strategic Concept for Europe and Germany and weighs in on debates of whether or not German defense policy is experiencing a so-called “Zeitenwende” – or sea change.

nato germany

In the most recent episode of FeniksPod’s Atlantic Series, Dr. Aylin Matlé pointed to two outstanding concerns within NATO’s new strategic framework. First, she noted that “conventional as well as nuclear deterrence and defense form the foundation of collective defense in the sense of territorial protection of the allied theater.” This includes “challenges such as climate change mitigation, energy security, protection of key infrastructure, and the rush to adopt new and disruptive technologies.” She argued that the second concern “may be summed up under the category of democratic resilience.”

According to Dr. Matlé, NATO’s new 2022 Strategic Concept will have repercussions for European allies in general and for Germany in particular. Pointing out that “national territory defense troops, the Enhanced Forward Presence, and brigade-level battlegroups on the Eastern flank should consist of European soldiers,” Dr. Matlé noted that “Germany has in fact agreed to commit 30,000 troops, 85 ships, and planes to the new force model by 2025.” She believes, however, that “it is a tall order for Germany, in particular, to master these troops in addition to the soldiers that should be provided to the European Union’s fast reaction force, as outlined in the strategic compass.”

Dr. Matlé is skeptical of arguments that German defense policy has undergone or is undergoing a drastic shift. She argued that “the so-called ‘Zeitenwende’ or sea change announced by German Chancellor Scholz on February 27, just days after Russia’s incursion, will not change anything by itself.” In order to realize such change, Dr. Matlé emphasizes the necessity for more real action, adding, “instead, this sort of declaration must be supported by more than simply crowned words.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Matlé did not deny that Germany had taken the initiative in certain ways. She noted that “clearly, there have been changes,” especially in reference to Germany’s arms shipments to Ukraine. Germany’s armed forces now also have access to a considerable special fund capped at €100 billion. Still, Dr. Matlé emphasized that “it is now evident that none of the projects that the ministry of defense attempted to finance with those funds will be able to be completed. Therefore, they had to exclude certain initiatives from that list.” Moreover, “it has not yet been determined what would happen after the fund [is depleted].”

Dr. Matlé looked to the way ahead, arguing, “it only makes sense for Germany to increase its efforts.” For example, Berlin has already partially deployed a mechanized unit in Lithuania, which is, for her, a positive indication. She continued, “Germany should not just offer a frigate to Lithuania, but also investigate additional methods to fortify the eastern flank. The promises that Germany indicated it would offer for NATO’s new force model indicate that it is seriously considering becoming a considerably larger donor of forces for the eastern or northeastern flank of NATO.”

You can listen to the full FeniksPod episode on SoundCloudYouTubeAnchor, and Spotify.

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